Hurdles aren’t a new phenomenon for working women. But in the post-pandemic climate, the art of balancing career with competing family priorities signals that working women may face significant setbacks to several decades worth of advancements.
Organizations are at a historical inflection point. It’s more vital than ever for companies to step up to meet this moment and its specific challenges. Making significant cultural and policy changes can have lasting effects for women in the workplace for decades to come. Likewise, investing in professional learning and development is critical to keep rising female leaders from exiting the workforce.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused big changes in the workplace, resulting in what many consider a “she-cession.“ Now, organizations have the unique opportunity to address the situation to curb - and ultimately reverse - this exit of women from the workforce. Doing so will require placing women front and center, and actively paving the way for them to not only return, but excel.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Women
Over the last several years women's role in business has steadily increased, especially in the boardroom. Representation by women at the C-Suite level has increased 22% since 2015.1 Yet, barriers still exist, and Covid-19 has thrown several curveballs for women at all levels of their careers. Not only are there costs for women on an individual scale, but globally: according to Oxfam International, Covid-19 has cost women over $800 billion in lost income in one year.2
A recent report by the U.S. Labor of Bureau Statistics found women are 3x as likely to sacrifice their career for their family.3 In addition to school and childcare closures, women take off their professional hats to fill additional caregiving roles.
Covid-19 has magnified not only these, but other challenges:
- Burnout from increased workloads, and “always being on”
- Increased responsibilities on the homefront
- Added pressure from competing priorities
A global survey by Deloitte showed that “70% of women said they’ve experienced adverse changes to their daily routines during the pandemic believe these shifts have prevented—or will prevent—them from progressing".4 Yet, women remain optimistic about their professional potential.
Opportunities to Advocate
Organizations can support women by adjusting workplace policies and procedures with the changing landscape. They hold significant power to provide women with what they need to advance in the post-pandemic world. Policies should stress:
- Supportive, empathetic workplaces
- Attention to underlying causes of burnout
- Flexible scheduling and work/life balance
- Accessible professional development
Conversations around issues that may have existed before COVID-19 are now front and center. Women are expected to juggle all competing priorities, and organizations have the opportunity to shift their expectations to meet women where they are. Empathizing with women’s plight caused by the pandemic can lead to more understanding, compassionate, and flexible workplaces.
Deloitte’s survey asked what the most beneficial action(s) your organization could take to support you [women] in your career and ensure you stay long-term in light of Covid-19? 40% of respondents stated ‘providing more learning development opportunities and interesting projects’, and 46% responded “providing leadership, networking and mentoring opportunities’.2
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Organizations need to find, create, and bolster programs that fit within our new norm, and that provide a work/life balance. Prioritizing professional development will continue the trend of increasing women’s seats in the C-suite. Organizations play a crucial role in boosting women up, and it’s the right time to put in a concerted effort that emphasizes women’s continued potential in the workplace.
Supporting Women’s Progress
Now is the time to develop, implement, and encourage professional development programs that fit what women want and need. These programs must be crafted and intentional. The detrimental effects sparked by Covid-19 can be countered by a conscious focus on these growth opportunities. Programs like McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin’s Women Who Mean Business, offer women an immersive opportunity that teaches them how to find their personalized leadership style, develop their decision-making power, and gain skills to support their ongoing leadership development. The importance of continued education and leadership curriculum - including courses, mentorships, and networking - will have a positive impact on women’s growth and future if prioritized now.
“I hope that Women Who Mean Business serves as a secret decoder ring to help more women successfully navigate their career journeys.” –Lynn Utter, Instructor, Women Who Mean Business
The challenges and setbacks associated with Covid-19 will continue to surface over time. It’s essential for organizations to act swiftly, and realize their critical role in furthering women’s career success, especially in leadership development. These actions can literally change the course of our world.